Sunday, January 10, 2010

Homemade Gnocchi with Fried Eggplant

I have a thing for homemade pasta. But, I do not have a pasta maker. Gnocchi are the perfect solution: chewy little potato dumplings that can be made entirely by hand. They're a little time-consuming, but totally worth it for fresh, handmade pasta.

I paired the gnocchi with a fresh tomato sauce, and topped the whole thing off with slices of crispy fried eggplant. Gnocchi are usually served with a very light sauce, like a vinaigrette or pesto, to really let the pasta itself shine through, and this simple tomato sauce compliments them perfectly. I was originally going to roast the eggplant for this, but the boy (hereafter referred to as TB) wanted fried eggplant, and I just couldn't say no to that face. Actually, the crispy breading made a wonderful contrast to the soft gnocchi, and the whole thing turned out delightful.

Homemade Gnocchi

Adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

  • 2 russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3/4 to 1-1/4 c. all-purpose flour (if you like your gnocchi firmer, substitute bread flour or add some gluten)
  1. Poke a bunch of holes in the skins of the potatoes with a fork. Bake them at 400° until very tender, about 45 minutes. No need to wrap them in foil; just stick 'em right on the oven rack. Potatoes are done when a fork pierces easily, and can be wiggled around a bit inside the potato.
  2. Remove potatoes from the oven and let them cool a few minutes, until you can handle them without burning the crap out of your hands. Peel them with a paring knife, being careful to not lose too much of the flesh. Cover the peeled potatoes with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and leave them to finish cooling completely.
  3. Place cooled potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Mash them with the olive oil and salt, as smooth as you can get them by hand; do not use an electric mixer, as this will make your gnocchi sticky.
  4. Add about 1/2 cup of flour and work it into the potatoes. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and continue working in more flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until you get a smooth, un-sticky but not dry dough.
  5. If you're cooking the gnocchi immediately, put a large, salted pot of water on to boil.
  6. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 sections, and roll each one out into a long rope about 1/2" thick. Cut the ropes into small 1/2" pieces. Roll the pieces down the tines of a fork with your thumb, so that the dough curls around your thumb on one side, and has ridges from the fork on the other side. (You want the dimple from your thumb, because this is where the gnocchi catches a lot of the sauce.)
  7. Drop the pieces one at a time into the boiling water. Cook in batches, if necessary, to avoid overcrowding the pan; you don't want the gnocchi sticking together. They will sink to the bottom of the pan at first, then rise to the top as they cook. Once they rise, cook them for another couple of minutes, then pull them out of the water and into a colander. Rinse them briefly to remove some of the sticky starch on the surface, then place in a single layer on a plate to cool.
NOTE: If you want to freeze the gnocchi for later, you freeze the dough pieces, before they're cooked. The best way to do it is to place them separated on a cookie sheet and freeze them for a few minutes, until hard to the touch. Then you can toss them in a container or freezer bag, and freeze for up to 3 months. To cook later, just toss the frozen gnocchi in boiling water, and follow the directions above.

Makes about 4 servings of gnocchi. These are best when served immediately after cooking, but they will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Pasta with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato on
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. fresh basil, chopped with chiffonade technique
  • splash of balsamic vinegar (red wine or sherry vinegars would also work)
  • 1 c. (about 2 Romas) diced tomato
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt
  1. Heat olive oil (just a couple turns of the pan) over medium heat in a large skillet. Sautée the onion just until it starts to brown. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so. Deglaze the pan with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
  2. Toss the diced tomato, red pepper flakes, and basil into the pan. Sautée for a few minutes, until everything is heated through and the tomatoes and basil are soft.
Makes about 4 servings of sauce. This is a light, chunky sauce, not really similar to a marinara; TB describes it as "Italian pico de gallo." Good, vine-ripened tomatoes are the key to a good flavor here.

Fried Eggplant

  • high-heat frying oil (canola, grapeseed, and safflower all work well)
  • 1 small eggplant
  • kosher or pickling salt
  • 1/2 c. nondairy milk
  • 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. breadcrumbs
  • dried garlic, basil, oregano, marjoram, or other Italian seasonings
  • salt and pepper
  1. Slice the eggplant into 1/4" thick slices. I like to cut them in half again into half-moon shapes, but you can leave them whole if you like. There is no need whatsoever to peel eggplant, unless it is very out of season and tough and bitter.
  2. Place the eggplant slices in a colander, and toss them with some kosher or pickling salt. This will draw out some of the moisture and bitterness. Let them sit for at least 20 minutes or up to an hour, and then rinse them thoroughly with cold water and pat dry.
  3. Heat a generous amount of oil over medium-high heat in a large steel or cast-iron pan. Using enough oil (but not too much) and being careful to not overcrowd the pan are key to making nice, crispy eggplant.
  4. Get yourself 3 flat-bottomed bowls.
    • In the first, whisk about 1/4 cup of the flour into the nondairy milk to thicken it up.
    • In the second bowl, toss the rest of the flour, and season it with pepper and a little bit of salt (go easy on the salt, because purging the eggplant slices with salt makes them a little, er, salty, even after rinsing).
    • In the third bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the various dried herbs and spices.
  5. Dip the eggplant slices one at a time in the soymilk, then toss them in the flour, then dip into the soymilk again, and then coat in breadcrumbs.
  6. Toss the breaded eggplant slices onto the pan and fry for a couple of minutes per side, until they're brown and crispy.
Like the gnocchi, this should be served and eaten right away. It will get soggy if you refrigerate or reheat it.

Now all you have to do is assemble! Toss the gnocchi in the tomato sauce, then layer some fried eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle some fresh basil or parsley on top for fanciness, and enjoy!

Happy eating.

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